Ben Lerner provides some fascinating insights into his work in this Quietus interview. It is ostensibly about his latest novel 10:04 yet its range is broad.
Here's an excerpt:
There’s a part in 10:04, the short story that was in The New Yorker, and you can think about that as a literary commentary on the publishing industry but it seems more like a commentary on the way that people construct their own lives. The narrator in that story has taken someone else’s life and woven it into their own and I’m reminded of friends who, or times that even I, I’m sure, have taken stories that other people have told and replaced the ‘I’ with their own – purposefully or otherwise – and it’s become part of their life even though they never lived that moment.
Totally. Part of one way that the book is concerned with that kind of thing is, for example, when it talks about the Challenger disaster – which this whole generation of Americans remembers live but actually nobody, or very few people, actually saw it.
I’m interested in how a lot of memories that we feel provide our identity are social fictions – they’re not individual experience. One way to think about the movement between the two books is that there’s a scene in Leaving the Atocha Station where the narrator steals his friend’s experience of having been around a drowning and retells it as his own, trying to pass it off as his experience and get mileage out of it and, in this book, there’s a lot of shared circulation of stories and information. But instead of it being about passing something off as yours it’s about language that transcends authorship and an experience that transcends an individual body – the way that the self is a tissue of social experiences and not just a private domain.
The self is like a permeable membrane. And even between the two books there’s a sense, a spectre or vague implication, that the protagonists of Leaving the Atocha Station and 10:04aren’t entirely distinct as Selves…
It’s willfully confusing, but I think it’s more that the narrator of 10:04 is the author of Leaving the Atocha Station – but then it’s unclear how much the author of Leaving the Atocha Station was the narrator within it, so there are all these different kinds of divisions of fictional levels. What I’m interested in in 10:04 is the way that experience becomes fiction and the way fiction becomes real; has like a lived effect, even in small ways.
If you write a book, once the fiction becomes a fact in the world, it starts to exercise its actual control over your life and I wanted to track that. How do you transpose experience in to fiction? How does it get made back in to fact? And sometimes that’s a great thing and sometimes that’s a horrible thing. Ronald Reagan would be an example of a bad transposition of fiction in to fact – of an actor in to the realm of politics, crossing a border with disastrous effects.